New Zealand Sevens great Sir Gordon Tietjens has apologised for joking about non-consensual contact with a woman in a speech.

The veteran rugby coach, who has a string of world titles and Commonwealth Games wins to his name, made the comment at the Otago Sports Awards.

He talked about removing a woman's bra, with or without her consent.

There was stunned silence from some in Friday's audience and a smattering of laughter from others, a guest said.


A string of sexually inappropriate jokes also featured in the Tauranga 58-year-old's speech.

Sir Gordon, a former NZ Rugby Union coach of the year, issued a statement of apology yesterday.

However, campaigners against sexual violence said better behaviour was expected of a "role model".

"It was not my intention to cause offence in any way. I sincerely apologise to anyone that was upset," Sir Gordon said.

"It was a joke, in hindsight, which I should never have used and I am deeply sorry."

Dr Kim McGregor, executive director of Rape Prevention Education Whakatu Mauri, said it was disappointing when those in positions of influence "choose to trivialise such a widespread crime and cause hurt and insult to all those affected by sexual violence".

"It shows that ... the macho culture hasn't shifted and what we would like to see from our high-profile male role models is a modelling of respectful relationships. Perhaps he'd like to make a donation to Rape Prevention Education."

Louise Nicholas, an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, said the joke was "highly inappropriate".

"The sad thing is that so many people, especially our young people, look up to Titch and the boys."

The Otago Sparks women cricketers won the team of the year award at Friday's event. Skipper Suzie Bates, who also captains the NZ team, said although she did not hear the bra reference, Sir Gordon made other questionable comments.

"I was sitting at the table with all my team, which is obviously all females, and there were a few ... gasps and looks at each other."

NZ Rugby Union general manager of rugby Neil Sorensen said he was very disappointed to hear of the joke and would speak to Sir Gordon.

"We expect high standards from all of our people, including players and coaches.

"We do not condone any behaviour which is sexist or offensive in any way and we are pleased Sir Gordon has accepted he overstepped the mark and has apologised."

Sir Gordon has coached the national sevens side since 1994.

- additional reporting Otago Daily Times